One of the first History courses I took in High School was Canada in the 20th Century. Most Canadian history texts that are used in schools start at this point. And there’s no surprise. As a nation, Canada came into its own in the 20th Century. Many point the crucible of World War One as the focal point. Others state the post World War Two era leading up to the 100th Anniversary of Confederation. But everything that happened in the 20th Century built on what happened before and the sins of the past were going to come back to haunt.
As Canada emerged from the 19th Century, it transformed from a fledgeling nation to a shining beacon of Empire. The Dominion model, which was pioneered by Canada, had been applied to other former Provinces. Australia joined the club in 1901, and both New Zealand and Newfoundland were made Dominions in 1907. But Canada was far from perfect. The government had already been caught in a bribery scandal, Canadian Militia had violently put down the rebellion and fought in colonial wars of Empire. And government policy forced Indigenous children from their families to remove their ancient culture and language to assimilate them into western culture better. And a head tax reduced the number of Chinese immigrants in Canada, even though they provided much of the dangerous labour that built the Canadian Pacific Railroad. But times were quickly changing, and Europe again thundered towards war. In 1906, the final elements of the British army had pulled out of Halifax, and even the Royal Navy were reducing the number of ships on their North American station. The launch of the HMS Dreadnought began a new Naval Arms Race between England and Germany. The result saw the creation of the Canadian Naval Service in 1909 and two former Royal Navy protected cruisers sold and commissioned for Canadian Service, the HMCS Rainbow and HMCS Niobe. And the two remaining naval stations at Halifax and Esqualimet were turned over to the Canadian Naval Service. In 1911 King George V bestowed a Royal designation, transforming the Canadian Naval Service into the Royal Canadian Navy. And while Canadian Sailors were proud to serve. They found themselves facing many of the traditions good and bad of the Royal Navy and serving under the command of some of their Officers on detached service.
The 28th of June 1914 on a crowded street in Sarajevo, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand met with an assassin’s bullet and through a complex set of alliances and sabre-rattling the world tumbled into war. Germany attempted a quick end to the growing conflict and invaded France through Belgium. England, who initially wanted to stay out of the conflict. Would have to respond to the German invasion of Belgium according to the terms of the defence treaty. On the 5th of August 1914, England would declare war with Germany bringing all her Dominions (which now included South Africa and the Irish Free State) into the conflict. Rather than activate the Canadian Militia and deploy the Permanent Force overseas the Government established a secondary army, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to organise, train, and use Canadian Volunteers overseas. As with the Boer War, support for the war split Canada along racial lines with English speaking Canadians supporting the war effort. At the same time, the French-Canadians were lukewarm, even when the CEF setup the 22nd Battalion as a French-speaking unit. Even some Americans would cross the border to join the war effort under the CEF. And while the war seemed far away, the effect of the war was felt on the homefront. Many Canadians descended from those nations whom Canada was now at war with faced racism and even imprisonment in concentration camps. One such camp existed at New Fort York (Now Stanley Barracks) in Toronto, Ontario. Even the city of Berlin, Ontario changed its name to Kitchener. Canadian troops would first see combat on the western front in 1915 and face a new form of industrial warfare unlike any they met in the past. Canadians troops faced down machine guns, poison gas, and artillery fire the likes which had never been seen before. On the home front, the Canadian industry produced guns, ammunition, tanks, trucks, planes, and anything for the war effort. Women would take on roles generally done by men, working in farm fields and factories. Women in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta would gain Provincial voting rights in 1916.
On a cold February night alarm bells rang out across the city of Ottawa, the Centre Block on Parliament Hill was burning. Despite the efforts of many of the city’s fire brigade, the building could not be saved. The only section of the building saved was the Library thanks to the quick thinking of the on-duty librarian who saved many Parliamentary records, books, and art. By closing the fire door and rode out the fire. While newspapers, such as The Globe, were quick to name the cause of the fire as an act of German sabotage, the purpose would be found out to be an unattended cigar in one of the many reading rooms. By September, despite the continuing war, the cornerstone had been relaid. As the war dragged on into 1917, the need for troops continues to spiral. But the horrors of modern war were reaching the homefront, and the number of volunteers dropped. The Government of Prime Minister Robert Bordon would have little choice and passed the Military Service Act. While the Military Service Act would prove unpopular, the Provincial governments in Ontario and British Columbia granted full voting rights to women. And at the Federal level women who were on overseas service or women who had a male relative on foreign service were granted the right to vote in Federal Elections.
On the 6th of December, the war would come home to Canada. A Norwegian cargo ship SS Imo collided with the French munitions ship SS Mont Blanc in Halifax Harbour. The collision caused a shower of sparks to ignite dangerous barrels on deck as the explosion ripped through both Halifax, Dartmouth, and surrounding settlements. The resulting blast and fires destroyed much of Halifax, damaged Dartmouth and wiped out most of Africaville and a nearby Mikmak Settlement. Some 2,000 people lost their lives. And while Halifax and Dartmouth received most of the support for reconstruction little went to the poorer (and mostly black) residents of Africaville and the Mikmak. On the 1st of January 1918, the Military Service Act came into force. Under conscription, some 400,000 Canadian men became eligible for military service. But the Act allowed for many different exemptions and some ninety per cent of those activated for service applied for and received an exemption. Getting an exemption required you to carry official papers and display them when asked by a Federal Police officer. One such person in Montreal refused when asked by an officer, who prompted arrested the draft dodger. Protests quickly rose throughout Montreal and spread throughout the province. Local Police and the Dominion Police could do little as the protests turned violent. Prime Minister Borden, under the War Measures Act, declared martial law in Quebec and deployed members of the Permanent Force to restore order. On the 1st of April, Canadian Troops clashed with protesters and opened fire into a crowd. Official reports stated that only five were killed along with another one hundred and fifty injured. And while the order was restored, anti-conscription protests continued but far more peaceful. By the 24th of May full Federal Voting rights were granted to women. And while conscription had been needed, many who were drafted never got overseas. The war ended with a ceasefire on the 11th of November 1918.
The war had changed the world, new technology, new ideas, and growing equality. At least between men and women. While many Canadian troops remained in Europe as part of the occupation force or went on to fight in the growing Russian Civil War, many returned home forever changed. But Canada quickly returned to a peaceful life. Construction on the fourth Welland Canal resumed in 1919. The new canal marked a major shift in the route of the canal for a far more straightforward route. Port Weller, which had been established in 1913, became the new terminus on the Lake Ontario end of the Canal. A third branch to the Canadian Militia would see an introduction that same year. The Canadian Air Force would grow out of a corps of pilots that flew for the Royal Air Force during the War. While the force did not last long, it started the idea of a military air force in Canada. On the 11th of February, the Federal Government decided to merge the two Federal Police Forces into a single unit. The Royal North-West Mounted Police and the Dominion Police would become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Angus Mcphail would in 1921 become the first woman to be elected to the Federal Parliament. The Canadian Government had long supported the Canadian Railroad operators, even creating a management firm, Canadian National Railway, to keep smaller operators from going bankrupt and disrupting a vital transportation mode. But when Grand Trunk failed to repay a great deal of money, the government had little choice but to seize the operator. The British investors who still owned the company were not pleased and sued the government for appropriate compensation. During the trial, it quickly came to light that the shares were worthless. But the acquisition of the entire Grand Trunk Network allowed Canadian national to become a full and proper railroad operator. A full military airforce in Canada would form on the 1st of April 1924 with the Royal designation of the Royal Canadian Airforce. By the mid-1920s trouble between Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King (The grandson of William Lyon MacKenzie) and Governor-General Sir Julian Byng was growing. A corruption scandal threatened to topple King’s government, King requested the Byng dissolve Parliament and call for general elections. Byng being concerned that there had just been an election refused, and instead asked that the Conservative opposition form Government. But with a Liberal majority in the house, they failed, and the government fell anyways. When King’s Liberals were returned to power, King began to lobby for greater legislative freedom. And in the Imperial Conference in London, he openly asked for change. The British Parliament responded and issued the Balfour Declaration in 1926. The Declaration made it clear that the Dominions were no longer subordinate to England, but were free and equal partners. Governors-General were no longer representatives of the British Parliament and were merely representatives of the British Crown. Thus reducing their power to interfere in local politics and pressure Prime Ministers into action. It would be eleven years after the fire that destroyed the Centre Block that the new building would open in a grand ceremony, the centrepiece being the Peace Tower. A memorial to all those Canadians to perished in the War.
War seemed on the horizon again as Imperial Japanese forces moved in and invaded parts of mainland China on the 18th of September 1931. In the years before the War, the act of remembrance on Decoration Day had fallen out of favour. And while many resumed the practice following the War. Canadians also began to use the 11th of November to remember the end of the War. Armistice Day became a formal day of remembrance in 1920, but in 1931 by Act of Parliament became the official day of Remembrance of Canada’s war dead. The end of the British Empire and the formalisation of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 came in December of 1931. The Statue of Westminster cut most Legislative Ties with the British Parliament, instead of Dominions of the Empire, each would be members of a Commonwealth of Nations. In August of 1932, the Fourth Welland Canal opens to ship traffic, the remains of the Second and Third Canals are shut down and closed to all navigation. On the 2nd of November, Sir John Buchan would be nominated for the posting of Governor-General by Prime Minister King; King George IV would approve and appoint the Scottish author and historian as Canada’s 15th Governor-General. After several attempts to stop aggressive expansion by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, the invasion of Poland in September 1939 forced England to declare war once more. While it would have been strange for Canada not to, Prime Minister King would declare war, a week after England. Parliament decided to use the same model as in the previous war and created a Canadian Expeditionary Force again. Still, a year into the conflict, the Active Militia, Permanent Force, and CEF were combined into a single command, the Canadian Army. Canada would quickly shift into war production; factories again built weapons and vehicles. Ships, Tanks, and Planes would supply the ongoing war effort. The distance from the main theatres allowed Canada to be a haven for the Dutch Royal Family, a place to train new pilots for the airforce. And also hosted training schools for spies and prisoner of war camps for high ranking Nazi prisoners. One such camp, Camp 30, in Bowmanville, Ontario was the only site of a battle in Canada during the war. But war prisoners were not the only ones interned during the war, upon Japan’s entry many Japanese-Canadians were rounded up and send to concentration camps away from the Pacific coast, fearing they represented a fifth-column. By the end of the War, Canadians had fought in every major theatre of the war. Hong Kong to the Aleutian Islands, North Africa to Italy, Normandy to Berlin. When the War ended in May 1945 (VE Day) and August (VJ Day), Canada had one of the worlds largest army, airforce, and navy. Canadian troops participated in the partition and occupation of Germany and were one of the founding members of the United Nations.
As the century approached the middle, Canada began to forge a new identity separate from being British subjects. Prime Minister King championed the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1949. While the idea of being a Canadian Citizen and Resident had been around since first decades of the 20th Century, the new act would see the idea of being a Canadian Citizen as being unique citizenship, rather than a subordinate one. King would be the first to take the new Oath of Citizenship. That same year, Newfoundland, which had given up Dominion Status before the war would be joined to Canada as the last province that same year. Canadian Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen would again cross the ocean for War when the Korean War opened in May 1950. Canadians would again fight along with allies such as England and the United States but under the banner of the United Nations. Vincent Massey would become the first Canadian born Governor-General in 1952. Faced with further tensions between Egypt, Isreal, and England in the escalating Suez Crisis, Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Lester Pearson suggested the creation of a new type of army. Rather than an army that would fight in defence of one party or another, they would be there to keep the peace, through force if needed. The first UN Emergency Force or Peacekeeping Force would be made mostly of Canadian Soldiers and would aid in bringing a peaceful conclusion to the crisis. Pearson would win a Nobel Peace Prize for his actions. But the crisis also left a new idea with Pearson, the design of a unique Canadian Flag. Canada’s flag was still a Red Ensign, which featured the flag of England in the top left corner. And when Canadians were faced with standing between British soldiers and Egyptian soldiers, it was clear they were somehow connected. Pearson would ride his fame to the Prime Minister’s office and brought the flag idea with him. His initial plan faltered in 1963, but a bi-partisan committee renewed the plan a year later. Some 3,500 entries would be submitted to the committee. Most would feature a maple leaf, fleur-de-lis, or a British Flag. But the winning entry would be among the last submitted, and just by chance. The winning design, by George Stanley, featured a single red maple leaf on a field of white, flanked by two red bars. And on the 15th of February 1965, the new flag flew proudly from the Peace Tower in Ottawa. The rise in Canadian Nationalism got an even bigger boost when the 1967 World’s Fair went to Montreal, Quebec and proved to be the icing on the cake for the growing 100th Anniversary celebrations of Canadian Confederation. Canada grew into its nation, one connected to but separate from England. By the end of the decade, all three branches of the Canadian Military were unified into a single command, the Canadian Armed Forces, most of the uniqueness of each branch stripped away for a single rank, uniform, and command structure.
An increase in French-Canadian Nationalism mirrored the rise in Canadian nationalism. While some within the growing separatist movement within Quebec desired to gain independence to political means, others went for a more direct approach. Starting in 1963 the most violent of these groups, the Front de Libération du Québec, began a bombing campaign across the province and culminating in the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969. Twenty-Seven people were injured along with significant property damage to the exchange. When that failed to produce results, the FLQ kidnapped two men, a British special envoy, James Cross and Pierre La Porte, the deputy premier of Quebec. The FLQ promised their release if their demand of releasing members of the FLQ in prison. Fearing further escalation and targeting of Federal property, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau enacted the martial law in Quebec under the War Measures Act. Canadians soldiers flooded the province, taking up positions to guard government buildings. Police and Soldier rounded up known members of the FLQ and associates. Despite these efforts, the FLQ murdered La Porte. And while Cross would be released, the deployment of soldiers to the province would leave a lingering bad taste in the mouth of many in the Province. And it only reinforced the idea of an independent Quebec. The language Bill of 1973 required the French language to be the language of prominence on all signage, both public and private throughout the province. The final remaining section of the Third Welland Canal would close that same year with the completion of the Welland Bypass. Both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific would give up passenger rail service, turning over locomotives and cars to a newly created Crown Corporation, VIA Rail in 1977. When the separatist minded Parti-Quebecois took control of Quebec’s National Assembly, they called for a public referendum on the idea of an independent Quebec. When the votes were tallied after the May 1980 vote, a slim majority voted to remain a part of Canada.
The passage of 1982’s Canada Act cut the final ties to the British Parliament. Spearheaded by Prime Minister Trudeau, the act provided Canada with full control over the Constitution. Among the changes introduced by the Canadian Parliament following the patriation, was the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The same year, another bill changed the name of Dominion Day to Canada Day. While most were pleased with the changes to the Constitution and in 1987, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney arranged for a Constitutional Convention to bring the Premieres alongside the changes. Known as the Meech Lake Accords, they proved to be initially popular. But soon many began to complain about the process, mainly about not enough diverse representation within the conference. Acceptance of the accords would prove to be political suicide, and several premiers lost their governments as a result, including Prime Minister Mulroney. The Accords would ultimately fail and put strict controls over how future changes would have to be done. The 1992 Charlottetown Accord aimed to bring everything back on course and maintain national unity. Charlottetown offered up a far more diverse set of delegates and provided for what the Federal Government thought would be good additional changes. Proposed changes included self-government for the Indigenous peoples of Canada, a definition of Canadian Culture, recognition of Quebec as a unique culture, changes to the division of powers between the Federal and Provincial Governments, and reforms to both the Senate and Supreme Court. The changes went over like a lead balloon. Many Premieres had no desire to accept the changes. When presented to the Canadian public, they also voted to reject the accords in the public referendum.
But rather than national unity improving, things only got worse in the 1990s. Word of the horrors being committed by the Residential School System had started coming to light, and in 1993 the Anglican and the Presbyterian Churches in Canada apologised for their roles in the atrocities committed by them while running the schools. A second referendum took place in 1995 on Quebec separatism and came back with an even narrower majority wishing to remain in Canada. It wouldn’t be until 1996 that the final Residential School closed, the final one located in Punnichy, Saskatchewan. A year later the United Church of Canada issued an apology for their role in running the schools. The end of the century marked the final division of the Northwest Territory with the creation of the Territory of Nunavut in 1999. The attacks on the United States on the 11th of September 2001 brought out both the best and the worst. The city of Gander, Newfoundland, welcomed many travellers when their planes were rerouted after Terrorists used passenger planes to attack the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC. A third plane was forced down by her passengers, preventing a third attack. Canadians troops would join American and British forces in launching an invasion of Afghanistan. The question around the Residential Schools wasn’t addressed until 2008 when the Federal Government authorised a commission on Truth & Reconciliation, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologised for the Federal Government for the horrors that were committed. In 2011 the historical names and uniforms were restored to the three branches of the Canadian Forces, although they remained under a single command.
In 2017 Canada opened up celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of Confederation. The festivities provided the catalyst needed to start this project to explore the events that lead up to the 1867 Confederation. Along with ideas of Canadian independence and the dark area of history between the end of the War of 1812 and Confederation. What’s strange about the events that took place from 1990 and onwards are ones that I remember. One of my earliest memories beyond ones told to me by my parents if the Gulf War in 1991, where it was the first time I remember Canadian troops being deployed. In middle school, we learned and studied the Quebec Separatist movement and waited in front of the TV watching the CBC coverage of the 1995 referendum. And celebrated the creation of the Nunavut Territory. Through High School, I learned about Canada in the 20th Century (Canada in the XX Century, according to my old timetable). I helped get a TV connected in time to see the second plane hit in 2001. And while we have come far, I fear now we are starting to backslide, forgetting our past, and letting old fears and divisions get the better of us. But that is a topic for next week’s final entry.